Francisco Cantú

This Former Border Patrol Officer’s Memoir Will Break Your Heart

Without getting too political, Francisco Cantú’s memoir The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is an emotional read, one that puts a human face on thousands of immigrants crossing the border each month and the Border Patrol agents whose duty it is to try and stop them. 


The Line Becomes a River

Image Via Amazon


Cantú, the author, begins his memoir explaining his background studying immigration policy in college and how his desire for firsthand experience in regards to the border and the people who live near it led him to become a Border Patrol agent. Cantú describes the four years he spent in the position as “miserable”.


Between his work in Arizona as a border patrolman and later, in El Paso as a higher-level agent, he details how patrolmen would destroy water jugs, food and clothes. He describes a conversation with his mother after she heard about agents chasing undocumented immigrants and knowingly allowing them to die in the desert. 


‘Is it true?’ she asked. . . . I glared back at her. ‘What do you want me to say?’ I snapped. ‘That agents are purposefully driving people to their deaths? Field agents don’t write border policy. We just show up and patrol where we’re assigned.’ My mother shook her head as if my words were those of an apologist or a fanatic.


He goes on to describe the disparity between El Paso and its south-of-the-border neighboring city Juarez, Mexico. El Paso, rated one of the safest cities in the United States, is shockingly different from Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 


The breaking point for the author was when he was ordered to “process” migrant children. 


After agents placed the girls in a holding cell, I told Mortenson I had to leave. My shift’s over, I said. He told me they still needed to interview the women who were picked up with the girls and asked me to stay and translate. I can’t help anymore, I told him. I’ve got to go home. As I drove away from the station I tried not to think of the girls, and my hands began to shake at the wheel. I wanted to call my mother, but it was too late.


Cantú eventually quit his job to take a position as a barista in a local coffee shop in El Paso, though didn’t escape the pain and suffering caused by immigration policy in the United States. Jose, an older man Cantú befriended, went to visit his mother in Oaxaca and was detained upon attempting to return to the United States. Now an outlaw, Jose was unable to reunite with his family, including his two young sons. Despite living in the country for thirty years and laying roots, there’s nothing to be done, and Cantú knows it.


Cantú’s memoir is an emotionally telling story of what life is like in this part of the country, for those working to protect the borders and those trying to escape atrocities by crossing it illegally. 


Featured Image Via Univision.